Title: A King’s Ransom
Author: Lia Black
Length: 432 Pages
Category: Alt U Fantasy, Fairy Tale
At a Glance: A King’s Ransom is a dark fairy tale fantasy that might not have hooked me at the start, but by the end, I was crossing my fingers for more from this -verse.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: Kaidos Vailinn is a man trying hard to overcome his past. But being a Wanderer-born thief does not leave him many options in life. So when a stranger comes bearing a contract to kidnap a prostitute and deliver “her” overseas, he’s hard-pressed to find a reason to turn it down.
Veyl is the highest paid “companion” at the Silver Tree Manor, an upscale brothel in the village of Aaullsworthe. At the tender age of twenty, he is steeped in ennui and still reeling from a broken heart. When he is called to a room at the local inn, he is charmed by the handsome dark-skinned man who has paid for his services. However things get ugly once Kaidos realizes it’s not a woman that he’s brought to his bed.
What begins as a journey full of discord slowly evolves into love, but the ruthless ambition of a dying tyrant threatens to separate Kaidos and Veyl forever. Kaidos must convince a group of unlikely allies and an army to help him rescue the man whose love is worth more to him than a king’s ransom.
Warnings: This book contains material that is not appropriate for minors. Contains sex between two adult men, inferences and mentions of rape, references of torture, references to childhood sexual abuse, some violence.
Review: By the time I was halfway through A King’s Ransom, I told a friend, “I’m not 100% sure I love this book, but for some reason I can’t put the freaking thing down.” It also happens to be around the halfway mark that the book begins to read as if it could’ve been split into two separate novels, the beginning an Alt U Historical, the latter half a Fairy Tale Fantasy, and while the transition between the two was jarring, it’s also when the action picked up and a sturdier plot began to materialize. And, that’s when I started digging the story because I could finally put a finger on what it was that was keeping me glued to my kindle.
Kaidos Vailinn is an antihero (even his surname is close enough to “villain”), at least at the outset. Being a Wanderer is the equivalent of the unflattering gypsy stereotype we’re familiar with, and though he is no longer part of a tribe, that doesn’t mean Kaidos has left behind everything his ethnicity carries with it, including the prejudice towards him. The fact he’s a thief as well as a brilliant tracker is why Kaidos stands to earn a king’s ransom if he can find a whore called Veyl and deliver her to the city of Dandre.
Veyl is a consummate courtesan, practiced in the art of seduction and an expert at making every man she’s with feel, at least for a short while, as if he’s the most important thing to exist in Veyl’s world. Veyl is also the most beautiful creature Kaidos has ever laid eyes on. So, flush with half the king’s ransom as down payment, and travel weary from his journey, Kaidos resolves to sample the fruits of Veyl’s talents before he kidnaps her and makes his way back to Dandre and the king.
And, well, this is when Kaidos discovers Veyl is very much a man.
Violently angered by what Kaidos considers Veyl’s purposeful deception, he scarpers with the unconscious whore, and lets loose a concentration of loathing directed at Veyl at every opportunity—and no little towards himself as well. There is nothing to like about Kaidos as his mission to deliver Veyl to the king begins; he treats the pampered and sometimes testy Veyl horribly, but as their proximity starts to foster familiarity, and a reluctant intimacy, a deeper connection begins to form between the two, especially when Kaidos’ half-brothers intrude on their travels. Their intrusion means Kaidos must not only protect his monetary interest to deliver Veyl safely to the king, but he must protect Veyl from Lirin—the brother with whom Kaidos has a troubled history. And this is where I’ll say to pay close attention to those Trigger Warnings, because some of the character building through both Kaidos’ and Veyl’s backstories isn’t pretty.
The forepart of A King’s Ransom is decidedly character driven with a focus towards building a connection between Kaidos and Veyl, and while there are some interesting and significant reveals that kept me invested in my need to know more, there was also an “are we there yet?” factor that kept me from falling in love with the story right off. Some of that is due to it taking time to warm up to the characters themselves. It’s not until the back half of this novel, when Kaidos has been sufficiently redeemed enough to begin rooting for him and Veyl—once Kaidos acknowledges that he isn’t only capable of having feelings for Veyl but that he’s very much developed feelings for him—that the story’s pace accelerates.
The man who was, at one time, Veyl’s savior and father figure, but who eventually became Veyl’s lover and then betrayer, aims to make sure Veyl is delivered into the king’s hands. And that Kaidos should die in the process. The action steps up a notch, wondering whose side Captain Ahrn Engel is on—Veyl’s or the king’s—and we’re introduced to an elf called Crow and a bear shifter, Lucania, and a mage whose magic has poisoned him. Aegeus has been ordered by the king to perform some of the blackest magic of the mage’s life, but he is biddable to the king’s demands by virtue of the young apprentice he considers a son and will do anything to protect.
The payoff is definitely in the second half of the book, where so much more world-building is done. Adventure and intrigue, danger and betrayal, magic and the mystery of Veyl’s true identity elevates this fantasy to its Fairy Tale proportions. Unexpected alliances and the defeating of an evil aggressor, a daring rescue and the declaration of true and everlasting love are hallmarks of the genre, and Black delivers them. The secondary relationship between Crow and Lucania, and most especially Crow’s backstory, offers a lovely and touching, and, frankly, a competing romance to Kai and Veyl’s. I wanted so much more of the exiled elf and his bear shifter; their chemistry was sweet and their connection came about in a touching way.
The way A King’s Ransom ends, I could see there being an opening left for a book two, but after more than three years since this book’s release, I won’t hold my breath. I will say, though, that in spite of a reservation or two about the progression of the story, the end was a real treat and I’m glad I stuck with it to the finish.
You can buy A King’s Ransom here: